By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered as the passionate promoter of civil rights, racial harmony and human diversity.
But what many historians consider his greatest attribute being a man of peace was celebrated Saturday night at the Monticello High School auditorium by more than 200 people.
The faces in the crowd watching the performances, partaking in the array of homemade dishes or talking with fellow county residents formed a sea of colors brown, black, white and of all ages, from toddlers to senior citizens.
They came from all corners of Sullivan County, representing just themselves or one organization from a diverse group: Somos La Llave del Futuro (a local Hispanic committee), the Sullivan County NAACP, the Sullivan County Million Man March Community Action Committee and its affiliate Committee of Sisterhood, or Sullivan Peace.
Its about time, remarked Million Man March member and event organizer Jesse York as he walked through the crowd. Especially right now, this is very important.
York, a Vietnam War veteran and a Monticello resident, said this is the third year his group has put on a Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration, but this is the first time its included other groups, such as Sullivan Peace, which that very day had several members in Washington, D.C. protesting the possible war with Iraq.
Dr. King didnt want war, explained York.
And this new partnership of efforts seems to be helping each group reach their own goals, according to York, whose organization offers youth activities like basketball, a step team (which performed Saturday), computer classes and black history events.
And now that we have these other organizations involved, maybe we can do more and make it bigger, he said.
I hope everything keeps going like this, agreed Kusar Grace of Monticello, a fellow member of the Million Man March Committee.
Pointing out the wide diversity of races and age groups at the celebration, Grace said that his group, which meets every Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Neighborhood Facility in Monticello, is planning an African-American-themed parade in Liberty soon.
As DJ Smooth (Monticello resident Dwayne Walker) and Four Guys From Nowhere (a Jeffersonville rock band) jazzed up the audience inside the auditorium Saturday, Sullivan Peace member Liz Bucar could be seen scurrying around the hallways, lining up more talented musicians like Clint Partridge of Bethel, Janet Burgan of Equinunk, Pa., and Dallas Fisher of Liberty (all of whom performed for free).
Bucar took a breather for a moment to thank York and crew for allowing Sullivan Peace to participate. (About a dozen of the 40 members provided information and served food.)
He was so welcoming and so happy, said Bucar. He just opened his arms, and we just walked in.
Bucar said she was there to communicate to others about Dr. Kings community-building ideas and to emphasize the fact that the estimated $200 billion to be spent on a possible war with Iraq could be better used on Medicare, education, and natural resources.
Between Sullivan and Wayne Peace, we sent over 200 people in four buses to Washington today, she explained.
Other participants Saturday included Hudson Health Plan (a medical resource for those with limited incomes), Oliver King (who read from Dr. Kings famous 1967 address at Riverside Church), and Yempha Smith, a Colombian native (now a county resident) who shared her thoughts about the famous activist.
Several King-themed films were shown, as well as Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election by filmmakers Richard Ray Perez and Joan Sekler.
Attendees were also treated to Crossing the Border, a theatrical performance about the lives of local farmworkers, many of whom are immigrants or resident aliens.
For more information on the efforts of these organizations, call York at 796-2640 or Bucar at 482-3527.